Gold bars, sniper rifles and a Mercedes-Benz: US senator indicted on Egypt corruption charges
US Senator Robert Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian Menendez, were indicted Friday on charges they took hundreds of thousands of dollars, gold bars, a luxury car, and other bribes in exchange for corrupt acts that benefited the government of Egypt.
The unsealed federal indictment reviewed by Middle East Eye also names Wael Hana, the owner of a halal food certification company, Fred Daibes, a New Jersey real estate investor, and Jose Uribe, a businessman, for participating in the corrupt acts.
"The defendants, provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes to Menendez and Nadine Menendez, in exchange for Menendez’s acts and breaches of duty to benefit the Government of Egypt, Hana, and others, including with respect to foreign military sales and foreign military financing," prosecutors said.
The indictment comes after a search of the Menendez home in 2022 last summer revealed $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in cash, much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets and a safe.
A $60,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible gifted to Nadine was part of the corrupt scheme, according to investigators.
"This investigation is very much ongoing," Damian Williams, the US attorney for Manhattan, said at a press conference on Friday when announcing the charges. "We are not done. And I want to encourage anyone with information to come forward and to come forward quickly."
The allegations are explosive for the 69-year-old Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and wields influence on arms sales, US foreign policy and relations with foreign governments.
Senator Menendez dismissed the federal charges as part of an “active smear campaign” in a statement on Friday. He accused prosecutors of engaging in “excesses” and misrepresenting “the normal work of a Congressional office”.
Prosecutors allege that since at least 2018, Menendez has secretly been meeting Egyptian military and intelligence officials - the names of Egyptian officials were not revealed in the unsealed indictment - as part of a corrupt scheme that involved passing along sensitive information to Cairo, facilitating arms sales and secretly lobbying on Egypt’s behalf.
The indictment lays out an interlocking web of ties between Senator Menendez, his wife, and Hana, a resident of New Jersey.
According to prosecutors, Hana began arranging meetings between Senator Menendez and Egyptian military and intelligence officials around 2018, when the senator started dating Nadine.
The indictment alleges that the senator promised Egyptian officials to use his power and authority to facilitate arms sales and financing for the Egyptian government in exchange for Nadine, who was then unemployed, to be put on the payroll of Hana’s company in "a low-or-no-show job”.
In May 2018, the US senator obtained un-classified but “highly sensitive” information from the State Department on the number and nationality of persons serving at the US embassy in Cairo, Egypt, among other details.
The US senator then allegedly texted the information to his then-girlfriend, under the title "FYI". Nadine forwarded the information to Hana, who forwarded it to an Egyptian official.
“Although this information was not classified, it was deemed highly sensitive because it could pose significant operational security concerns if disclosed to a foreign government or if made public,” the prosecutor said.
'The General' and sniper rifles
During a follow-up dinner at a high-end restaurant the same month, Senator Menendez disclosed to Hana non-public information about US military aid to Egypt, which included the lifting of a ban on small arms and ammunition, “that will include sniper rifles among other articles”, Hana later informed an Egyptian official.
In another act, prosecutors say that Senator Menendez ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of the Egyptian government seeking to convince US senators to release a hold on $300m in aid to Egypt.
Nadine allegedly requested her then-boyfriend write the letter because an Egyptian official she referred to as the “General” had gotten her clearance for “a project”.
Nadine later complained to Senator Menendez that Hana was not fulfilling his promises to make payments to her in exchange for the favours.
“Will (Wael Hana) left for Egypt yesterday supposedly and now thinks he’s king of the world and has both countries wrapped around his pinky. I really hope they replace him,” she wrote to Senator Menendez, who was her boyfriend at the time.
Prosecutors allege that Senator Menendez used his influence to aid Hana’s company, IS EG Halal, a New Jersey start-up that had exclusive control over the certification of halal food exports from the US to Egypt. Prosecutors say Hana used the company as a vehicle to provide payments to Senator Menendez and his wife.
A spokesperson for Hana said they are reviewing the charges “but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit”.
Egypt’s decision to grant Hana exclusive rights to exporting halal foods alerted regulators at the US Department of Agriculture, who were concerned about its impact on rising costs for other US meat suppliers.
Senator Menendez “improperly advised and pressured” a high-level official at the Department of Agriculture to demand they stop interfering in the IS EG Halal monopoly that prosecutors say was “detrimental to US interests”.
Senator Menendez’s position as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made him a valuable asset to the Egyptian government, according to details listed in the indictment. Senator Menendez has a hold on arms sales to foreign governments and has often trumpeted it in matters related to Turkey. On Friday afternoon he said he would step down as chairman of the comittee.
After news broke around 2022 about two pending foreign military sales to Egypt totalling approximately $2.5bn, Senator Menendez and his wife forwarded a link of the story to Hana, with Nadine writing, “Bob had to sign off on this”.
Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US military aid after Israel. The defence relationship has come under scrutiny because of Cairo’s poor human rights record, with many lawmakers calling for Washington to curtail foreign military assistance.
In September, the Biden administration announced it would withhold $85m -out of the $1.3bn in annual US military aid provided to Cairo - over human rights concerns.